Canadian men's volleyball team 2 wins away from Rio Olympics
Team needs top-3 finish to guarantee a spot in the Summer Games
TOKYO – As his high school career came to an end, Nick Hoag faced a tough choice: follow in the footsteps of his father, Glenn, and pursue a career in volleyball, or see how far his promise as a football quarterback could go.
He opted for the former. Now 23, Hoag is one of the most potent weapons of a Canadian men's volleyball team that is two wins away from its first Olympic berth since 1992.
"Obviously, volleyball was in my family, but Glenn was not really pushing us but encouraged us to play all sorts of sports," Nick told CBCSports.ca Friday, as the team took a day off to prepare for two matches this weekend. "I did develop lots of skills in other sports,"
"When I was 16 years old, I was deciding on schools and I needed more towards going specialized schools," he said. "It was either football and volleyball. I went with volleyball and it was my choice. The whole family is into it and I've always loved the sport."
That choice has taken him to professional teams in France and will, next season, to Milan and one of the world's top professional leagues in Italy.
Prior to coming to Japan for this last chance Olympic qualifier, Hoag wrapped up back-to-back French league championships; first with the club in Tours in 2015 and this season with Paris, the same club Glenn coached from 1999-2003.
Developing 'physical literacy'
It was in Paris that he started to play the game and found that the passion for the game was genetic.
"They were around the gym all the time," Glenn said of Nick and brother Christopher, also a professional volleyball player. "I did make them play other sports. I wanted them to develop physical literacy.
"It was important to give them to means to enjoy sport and when they finish volleyball they want to do other things."
On the national team, Nick has quickly become one of the important outside hitters.
Despite having his father as coach, it's almost all business with Nick; it's no different from other players. During his interview, Nick referred to his father almost exclusively by his first name.
"It's an odd relationship because it's a relationship as a father to a son but, mostly, it's a very professional environment when I'm with the team," said Glenn, who was also a member of the Canadian volleyball team that finished fourth at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. "There's not a lot of family talk. There's a little bit, for sure, but mostly business."
Canada needs wins over Japan on Saturday and China on Sunday to seal passage to Rio. This tournament decides the final four spots for this year's Summer Games, with Canada needing a top-three finish to guarantee its place.
The schedule isn't kind to Canada, with a night game on Saturday and a Sunday game about 15 hours later.
It's a similar situation to Canada's first two matches of the tournament. In less than 24 hours, they played 10 sets of volleyball against Poland and Iran, ultimately losing both and really forcing the staff to manage their athletes' exertion more delicately.
"In Canada, it will be two matches in the same day," said Glenn, referring to the 13-hour time difference with central Canada that will equate to a match early in the morning and one late at night.
Japan hasn't played well in the competition and are all but eliminated. China is battling Canada for the last of three Olympic spots, creating a weekend of high drama and plenty of pressure.